“One wonders whether Powell fully understands how revelatory his account really is…”

Mitchell Reiss comes to Jonathan Powell’s magnum opus on the peace process under the Blair regimine a little later than some others, but given he was a key player in the Bush administration for latter years of the process, he is, as one might expect, a good deal more critical that some the earlier entrants in the debate. Although there are echoes of Mandelson’s: “the Process is the bare minimum of the policy you need…” He doesn’t pull many punches.

Powell’s body of work over the next decade thus renders more than a little hypocritical his criticism of the Major government’s decision to resume contacts with the IRA after its bombing of Canary Wharf in 1996. Powell writes that Major sent exactly the wrong message to the IRA: “The government response should have been that they would never deal with the IRA again until they had put violence aside for good. . . . [It] helped convince them to continue with their dual strategy of violence and politics together.” Aside from Powell’s refusal to serve champagne to Sinn Fein officials visiting Chequers right after the IRA’s brazen, midday kidnapping and attempted murder of a former comrade from the center of Belfast, it is difficult to distinguish his approach from his predecessor’s. One searches in vain for any guiding moral principle here, or any willingness at all to sanction (or even properly define) unacceptable behavior.

HOwever, he goes on to argue that the British were more pliable in negotiations with SF. Indeed it was left to the Irish Government to hold the line on a last minute ‘demand’ that the IRA be allowed to keep some of its weapons:

In July 2005, the IRA had finally agreed to decommission all its weapons. At the last minute, Adams called No. 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members. Unless this was allowed, he threatened, decommissioning would not proceed. The Blair government conceded, but wanted to check with Dublin. Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell refused to acquiesce in the backsliding, despite enormous pressure. Powell told Adams of the problem, and Adams gave way. Decommissioning took place as planned.

Reiss’s interview in the Irish Times a few years back was a clear signal within the process that the US wanted cast iron assurances on policing and proper and binding committment to justice. A move that was not entirely popular inside the modernising end of the DUP…

He goes on to portray the situation as a front between the Irish and the US:

The consensus of the U.S. and Irish governments was that Adams was in control of the movement and had been since the Good Friday Agreement, when two small breakaway groups formed separate dissident movements. Indeed, the Good Friday Agreement itself could be seen as a betrayal of the IRA’s founding credo, yet Adams still managed to sell the deal to the vast majority of his followers. But most clarifying of all is Adams’s own admission, on BBC Radio earlier this year, that invoking the threat of a possible split was “just a necessary part of the conflict resolution process.” In other words, it was ploy and bluff.

Reiss also accuses Powell of skating over “McDowell’s role in the decommissioning drama and omits entirely the debate over visas for Sinn Fein”. Indeed, he notes that Powell makes little mention of the four horsemen in identifying , George Mitchell, and efforts of Clinton to unblock the various impasses.

But in summation, he is ultimately generous to his British counterparts, noting that: “Better to have too much patience in such affairs than too little.”

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  • Dave

    “At the last minute, Adams called No. 10 to demand that some of the weapons not be destroyed so that the IRA could arm itself against possible attacks from dissident members.”

    What does that mean? Does it mean that IRA members be allowed carry illegal guns – and it they didn’t carry them for personal protection, what good would they be against attacks? Presumably it means that Adams was considering a death squad within the IRA that would murder people who it considered to be a threat. I can’t see how they needed the permission of the Btish government to retain guns since they didn’t have to declare all of their guns and had considerable funds to purchase more guns if they wanted. It must be Adams seeking cover fron the British government to engage in political murder – if the British government de facto approved of a secret armed force, then no doubt Btirish Intelligence would have used it to eliminate dissidents by unorthodox means (and perhaps British Intelligence instructed Adams to ‘feel’ out the British government on ths tactic?)

    “One searches in vain for any guiding moral principle here, or any willingness at all to sanction (or even properly define) unacceptable behavior.”

    Now he is begining to understand ‘the process.’

  • Sorry admin: where does “Mitchell Reiss comes to Jonathan Powell’s magnum opus”? I can’t for the life of me find the review online (and hope I haven’t missed a link here). Even it’s in some offline tome a reference would be much appreciated.

  • Rory

    Presumably it means that Adams was considering a death squad within the IRA that would murder people who it considered to be a threat.

    No, Dave, it does not mean that. In fact your presumption illustrates only your own fevered imaginings. What Reiss reports, if accurate, indicates only that the IRA felt that they were under possible murderous threat from some dissident elements – no more, no less.

  • ulsterfan

    Rory

    Like Dave you are putting forward speculation.
    You have written with some authority and certainty .
    Perhaps you could share your sources with us.

  • Dave / Ulsterfan, It was the case up to the late 90s (and possibly still is) that many senior unionists were allowed to carry personal protection weapons (PPWs). Adam’s request may well have been a request for an equivalent accomodation for senior republicans. Not unreasonable given the dissident threat they faced.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Adam’s request may well have been a request for an equivalent accomodation for senior republicans.

    Nonsense, it wasn’t even a vaguely equivalent accomodation. He wanted an illegal organization to be able to hold on to illegal weapons with the blessing of the two governments.

    Nationalist politicians as well as unionists were and are permitted to apply for PPWs. I am not sure if any republicans have recently attempted to do so.

  • Comrade, if dissident republicans don’t pose a threat then why were three of them jailed in London for 30 years (each) in 2002?

  • Dave

    Exactly, Stalin… and the question then arises of what level of State ‘protection’ would have been afforded to the secret army if it engaged in ‘anticipatory self-defence’ against its former comrades (i.e. committed political murder) since the State would then have to cover-up (a) that full disarmament did not occur as the political situation (unionists) demanded, and (b) that the government allowed a secret army to exist with the specific purpose of carrying out violent actions outside of the rule of law, and (c) that political murders resulted from an arrangement that was approved by the State.

    Unnder the present situation, the two governments turn a blind eye to the organised crime activities of the IRA (and to its accumulated funds) lest acknowledgement of them upset ‘the process.’ Either the Shinners wanted to extend the ‘protection’ franchise to a murder campaign against dissidents or Adams was acting on behalf of his paymasters in British Intelligence who wondered if they could secure a licence to engage in expedient ‘policing’ via the try-on.

    Ergo, it is highly unlikely that it was about asking the government if the IRA would walk around with illegal handguns in case they were attacked while on their way to sign-on (or meet their handlers) or keep an UZI under the bed in case attacked at night. It had to be the basis of some state-sanctioned death squad.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    A little bird told me how Powell had begun to attempt to suppress public knowledge of the US contribution to the peace process before the publication of his book.

    However, sales are said to be poor of Powell’s tome. And while yours truly bought a copy, like Reiss, I was disappointed so much was left out.

    Can’t blame Powell for blowing his own trumpet, but he did have appallingly bad judgment sometimes.

  • Hmmm . . .

    I just wish that those who are SOOOOO concerned about PIRA arms were even half as concerned about the arms still held by the unionist murder gangs. Hypocrisy or stupidity?????

    And those unionist guns are still being used, aren’t they?

    And, the unionist thugs killed close to 2 times as many civilians as did the PIRA!!!!

    But, let’s not talk about that, shall we? Better to close our eyes to the real terrorists in the Troubles.

    And, of course, the security forces who also killed civilians are above criticism, hmmmm? Even though 2/3 of their civilian victims were Catholics. And, just over 50% of their victims were civilians.

    I wonder just when our unionist posters will wake up and realize that the bloodiest terrorist hands in the Troubles did NOT belong to the PIRA.

  • “Better to close our eyes to the real terrorists in the Troubles.”

    Better to close our eyes to this mad ultra-Provo ranting. Obviously a NORAID type.

  • circles

    Dave – man see somebody quickly! You seem to have a variation of the John O’Connell’s! Delusion hats place man but not in the real world. And as Bravo Two Zero as your imaginings may be, that is all they are – the imaginings of a conspiracy theorist.
    Then again – you might just have a fever.

  • Lost

    Where is the link to the Reiss review?

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry for the lack of a link… I was working in hurray at C4 yesterday, and that was the one thing I forgot to include when I dashed off for another meeting. I’ve added it now!